Is Being Thrown Off a Motorcycle the Same as “Getting Off” It?
Motorcycle accidents are far more likely to result in operator death than car accidents are, and that’s simply because a motorcyclist is exposed to the elements without any structural protection. It is common for motorcycle accident victims to be thrown from their bikes and receive their most serious – and potentially deadly – injuries several feet away from their vehicles.
Rhode Island Supreme Court Weighs In on Fatal Motorcycle Accident
Could this fact work against victims seeking insurance benefits? A recent decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court addressed just that question. This case tragically involves a motorcyclist who died after a freak accident. A barrel fell off an unknown truck and lodged itself in the wheel of the victim’s bike and caused him to lose control. The victim was ultimately “ejected into the adjacent lane of travel” and was struck and killed by a passing car.
In cases where a person is injured or killed by an unknown vehicle, he or his estate may seek benefits under an uninsured motorist (UM) policy. Here, the victim had a UM policy through his automobile insurer. But the policy contained an exclusion denying coverage if the victim was “occupying” one of his own vehicles at the time of the accident.
The insurance company argued the victim was “occupying” his motorcycle when he was killed and that it therefore did not have to pay. The executrix of his estate replied that since it was the second accident involving the car– after the victim had already been thrown from the bike – that killed him, he was no longer occupying his vehicle and the insurer was required to provide coverage.
A trial judge granted summary judgment to the insurer, but the Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed. The Court reversed the grant of summary judgment, allowing the case to go to a jury, but it left unresolved a final determination of whether the victim was “occupying” his motorcycle as defined in the UM policy.
The justices held that since the policy defines “occupying” as the process of being “in, upon, getting in, on, out or off” a vehicle, it was conceivable that if the victim died as a result of the initial collision with the barrel, then, “as harrowing as the image may be — decedent was indeed ‘getting off’ his motorcycle at the time of the fatal injury,” and the insurer should prevail. Again, the Supreme Court left it to a jury to sort exactly at what point the victim died.
One justice, in a concurring opinion, said he could not envision any way a jury could actually find the defendant was “getting off” his bike and suggested the other justices were torturing “plain English” to conclude otherwise.
Need Help Fighting the Insurance Company?
It may seem outrageous that an insurance company would go to such lengths to deny coverage to a grieving accident victim’s family. Unfortunately, this is the reality of dealing with insurance companies. That is why you should always work with a qualified Waterford-New London, Connecticut, and Rhode Island motorcycle accident injury lawyer who will stand up to the insurance companies and fight for the compensation you deserve.
Contact Polito & Harrington LLC today if you need to schedule a consultation following any kind of motorcycle or motor vehicle accident.